Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I went to the Bible study at the Presbyterian church in town again today. The same people were there as last time. The pastor remembered my name. He said they left off in chapter 5 last time but I couldn't recall which letter to the Corinthians it was. I opened to the first letter but the pastor mentioned verses 11 to 21, so I flipped over to Second Corinthians as discreetly as possible.

I brought an NRSV this time because that's what he and his denomination use. The guy next to me still had his TNIV and another lady read from the NIV. We covered only those eleven verses in the 90 minutes. A great deal of time was spent trying to puzzle out verse 11, especially the final word in most of our translations, "conscience."1 Then, in verse 14, we considered what could be meant by "therefore all died." We considered what it meant to no longer see anyone from a worldly point of view (verse 16). Someone described her practice of conditioning herself to acknowledge, at least mentally, Christ in everyone she meets. The pastor said that he tries to remind himself that Jesus loves everyone he meets. No one had any concerns about the "new creation" language in verse 17!

My eyes skipped ahead to the next chunk of text and fell upon the red-letter word "reconciliation" ... in my black-letter edition. I braced myself. A lady knew, as did the pastor, that the "Romans" now refer to the sacrament of confession as "reconciliation." The discussion quickly turned to a treatment of the Catholic "Old Testament" model of priest interceding for the people before God, and a lament that Catholics aren't allowed to go right to God, etc. I thought to say, "Well, no, because God comes to us," but didn't. The guy next to me said that he was invited to a Bible study at Nativity on Applegarth before he learned of this study:
"Catholics have their little Bible studies."
But his friend had to check with the priest at Nativity first on whether it would be ok to let in a non-Catholic2 and the priest hadn't gotten back to them yet.

And then the lady next to me who used to be a Catholic said that Catholics aren't allowed to think for themselves, they can't have an open discussion about the text, they can't have a Bible study without a priest there to tell them how to understand the Scriptures. So I considered what she said because I had just completed an Advent study at St. Joseph's on the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke on Friday. No priest joined our little sessions. The deacon was there but not to monitor our interactions, only to see how things were going. However, each session concluded with a video lecture from Fr. Stephen J. Binz3 telling us how to understand the Scriptures. But any biblical scholar will do, it doesn't have to be a priest.

I really wanted to tell them about the Advent Bible study at the Catholic church across town and the Matthew study planned for January. Maybe if I get a flyer, I'll just share that with them. I mean, why not get things firsthand rather than rely upon outdated memories and rumors. There were some non-Catholic Christians at the Advent study, I remember. When the guy plopped down next to me with his New King James, I thought to myself, "Here's another Catholic who doesn't know what Bible to choose!" Even when he mentioned having been born-again, I mistook him for a Catholic. But then he said that he tries to live "by the Bible" and was a deacon in a Baptist church before dropping out of "organized religion" altogether. Boy, did I have some verses for him! But he gave me Isaiah 11 which I read on the spot and couldn't see any specific point. And that Sunday, we read the first part of Isaiah 11 at mass and I was struck by how John the Baptist is described as having a leather belt but the Lord has justice and faithfulness around his waist (verse 5).

At one point, the pastor checked himself and acknowledged that he didn't want to go on "bashing the Roman church," but the former Catholic next to me urging him, "Please, bash away!" After he had his say, she recalled how the teachers at her grammar school all thought she had a vocation to religious life.
"I got out of that one, boy!"
She recently became reacquainted with a former teacher who's now at Georgian Court and, "the first thing she brought up was, 'We really all thought you had a vocation!'" The lady next to her quietly admitted that she'd always wanted to be a nun but, "I wasn't Catholic."

A couple of things happened just before we wrapped things up. First, the pastor admitted that after the 11 pm service on Christmas Eve, he's too keyed up to sleep so for the past several years he's flipped on the pope's midnight mass service from earlier in the evening and watched that. He said he never expected to actually look forward to that service but he now does. Secondly, one of the ladies on the interfaith council, a "Roman Catholic," was praised for her prowess with sheep4.
"And she's a very nice person, too."
I can return to this Presbyterian study on the 4th. They are certainly entitled to their opinions.

1 The NAB follows a more basic rendering (συνείδησις ), as usual.
2 I would think it would be alright.
3 Except he seems to be married now.
4 One of the Presbyterian services includes live sheep on Christmas Eve. A "treat" for the kids.